AbstractsPolitical Science

At cold war’s end: complexity, causes, and counterfactuals

by Benjamin Mueller

Institution: The London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE)
Year: 2015
Keywords: JZ International relations
Posted: 02/05/2017
Record ID: 2066457
Full text PDF: http://etheses.lse.ac.uk/3260/


What caused the Cold War to end? In the following I examine the puzzle of the fast and peaceful conclusion of the bipolar superpower standoff, and point out the problems this creates for the study of International Relations (IR). I discuss prevailing explanations and point out their gaps, and offer the framework of complexity theory as a suitable complement to overcome the blind spots in IR’s reductionist methodologies. I argue that uncertainty and unpredictability are rooted in an international system that is best viewed as non-linear. My analysis of the end of the Cold War proceeds with counterfactual investigations of leaders’ foreign policy choices. This helps produce a more fine-grained understanding of the manifold, dense interactive causal effects that abound in the international arena. I find that various choices made by four key international leaders in the 1980s – Ronald Reagan, George Shultz, Mikhail Gorbachev and George H. W. Bush – contributed to the rapid and unexpected end of the Cold War in various ways. While such leadership effects need to be offset against the wider structural context within which politicians operate, it is mistaken to exclude individual leaders and their key associates from the study of IR. I conclude that deterministic analyses fail to account for the independent causal wellspring provided by reflexive, conscious human agency. Complexity theory and counterfactuals can help identify the scope and limits of leaders’ influence on international affairs.